No mercy

The Supreme Court’s firm rejection of the scope for compromise between the victim and the accused in a rape case is an affirmation of the best principles of law and natural justice. The court has made this clear in rejecting the plea of two men who had been convicted of raping a minor in 1995. There have been instances of courts taking a lenient view of the offence of rape and reducing the jail terms of convicted persons on the argument that a settlement has been reached between the victim and the offender.

A compromise does not reduce the gravity of the crime which is a violation of a woman’s body against her will and causes irreparable damage to her mind. This damage cannot be undone by a compromise later. In fact even the victim or her family do not have the right to enter into such a compromise because, as the court noted, rape is not just an offence against a person but against society.

Various excuses or special circumstances are cited to moderate the punishment of the offenders in such cases. These include the subsequent marriage of the victim, the offer of the rapist to marry her, the long pendency of the trial or even the status of the culprit or the victims. These are all specious grounds. In a large number of cases the culprit is known to the victim and compromises are easily worked out. In cases where the victim is economically or otherwise vulnerable, pressure is put on her and her family to settle the matter or even to forgive the offender. A heinous crime like rape should not become a matter of negotiation between the parties involved.

Some courts have in the past curtailed jail terms of rapists on such extraneous considerations. Sentences have sometimes been reduced to the term already served by the accused. The Supreme Court has cautioned lower courts, including high courts, against such leniency and made it clear that any past judgments based on such untenable considerations should not become precedents for future. Laws on crimes against women have been made more stringent and sensitive to the rights, needs and feelings of women. But social attitudes have not kept pace with the changes in the law and this lag is seen even in judicial views on dealing with serious crimes like rape.

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